Every Line Counts

I have been taking a French class this past month and to supplement my progress, I’ve been watching a French movie here and there. I’m a long way from real growth as a French speaker, but I find that while I’m watching the movie, I’m often tangentially aware of how much work and how much sophistication the translators of these movies have to have in order to catch each joke, nuance along with all of the other difficult choices that they have to make to be true to the original work. And that’s just for a movie with a script and a staff and a budget that can allocate good resources to make it happen.

Which is why I’m particularly interested in Universal Subtitles, a company that affords individuals, companies, and nonprofits the ability to crowdsource their online video subtitles. All of the tools are free and what’s best about the system is that it is, indeed collaborative. The site is composed of a subtitle creation and viewing tool, a collaborative subtitling site, and a process for subtitle search and delivery. It’s a project that’s founded by the Participatory Culture Foundation, which “is a non-profit organization building free and open tools for more a democratic and decentralized media.”

I can see how sharing our videos (news, cultural, promotional) would be incredibly helpful in building new understandings across cultures. And it’s been getting positive reviews as it grows.

Of course, crowdsourced translation isn’t always the best methodology and is often cautioned by those in the industry. Although by using volunteers to do the translation subtitle companies can save on cost, they still often lose in quality. Larger companies who use the crowdsourcing resource often also have teams of professional translators who verify accuracy. So the question then becomes how does a company who wants crowdsourced subtitles control for quality?

Of course there are many opportunities for me to start translating things into French (you know, once I’m fluent) including the HootSuite Translation project or various Facebook initiatives, but for now I’ll leave that to the professionals.

What do you think about crowdsourced translation? Can a collaborative subtitle site like Universal Subtitles help to break down international barriers with this initiative?


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